Visiting Medellin and the Festival of the flowers
Traveling to Medellin is always fun; the climate is great, the women are beautiful and the people are so nice and friendly. I was therefore in a very good mood when I took the airplane on the 4th of August from Bogota. Actually I recommend everybody to travel to Medellin while on a Colombia holiday.
“Feria de Flores” or in English “Festival of the flowers”, has existed since 1957 and is the most important event during the year in Medellin. The show represents the end of slavery – a time when slaves carried men and women uphill on their backs. But instead of people, now the “silleteros” carry flowers on their back. When I say“flowers”, I mean works of art weighing up to 100 Kg!
Today, the event is 10 days long and there are several other events held around the festival. There is a fair, contests and also a historic car parade. Travel agencies offer tours to the flower producing farms. They bring busloads of tourists that travel in Colombia to nearby towns where they visit the fincas to learn how flowers are cultivated and how the silleteros prepare their works of art for the main parade (by the way, Colombia is one of the world’s largest producers of flowers).
One of the most important villages and a place to visit is Santa Elena. I went to “La Finca Silletera Los Girasoles” with my friend Silviana who is the owner of the local travel agency that I work with. I learned all about the history of the festival and that the participants of this village usually win all the prizes at the parade. I also have been told that being a silletero is only a right of birth and must be inherited. I also found out that starting to drink Aguardiente (a strong alcoholic beverage) at 9am is not unusual during Feria de Flores.
On Monday when the main parade is held, Silvi told me to be at the entrance to the seats before 10am. I was a bit confused as I also learned that the show would only begin at 2pm. She explained to me that this event is so important that if I arrived late I would risk not getting through the masses of people, or even not getting a seat at all among the crowds of enthusiastic people.
I arrived at 9.30 am and learned quickly that my friend was not exaggerating. On one side of the road where the parade would be held were stands. They were still empty, as they would first open at 10am. The other side of the road is for the general public, and locals had already occupied the first 2 rows. People brought chairs, blankets, food, cool boxes, umbrellas; it was like on an open-air festival. I learned that the first people had already arrived there at 5am. Also, a lot of food, drinks, chairs and other items were offered to sell or rent from street vendors.
Finally I got my hands on my ticket. In case I got bored I also brought my kindle, but as it turned out I would not need to use it. Our stand, which had a capacity of approximately 400 people, was reserved solely for tourists. Most were from other places in Colombia, some from other countries in Latin America and a few from non-Latin America countries. Foreigners on holidays in Colombia were a real minority. At 10.30 am it was almost full and people were entertaining themselves. People were chatting, eating, drinking and some started a singing contest with people on the other side of the road. On this sunny day the temperature was already around 25 degrees.
As a Swiss, the dynamic between the people I have to describe as amazing. I know that the Swiss are very different, more known for being sober accountants and for counting money all day… but after living in Colombia for 2 years I still did not expect such a spectacle inside a spectacle. I was asking myself, why do these people even need a parade, they are already a parade! This included just about everyone, from little kids to the grandma in front of me. She was at least 80+ and measured only 1.40m, but she could sure shake her booty–I couldn’t stop smiling!
Then the first trucks arrived, with DJ’s, dancers and free gifts that were thrown into the audience. Silvi told me that this was just the beginning; commercial floats from big companies. It was very entertaining and everybody was off their seats and dancing to the rhythm of the music.
Two hours passed and I was still entertained by the audience who were singing and still competing with each other. Then the main parade came down the road. It was divided into different categories like classic, traditional, commercial and I guess freaky! I did not believe my eyes sometimes, the men were transporting incredible flower monuments on their backs. While they carried their heavy loads, each group had scouts that helped out and took care that nobody fell while carrying those wonderful pieces of art.
And this was not the only thing the parade offered. The local authorities also presented themselves, firefighters, army, cleaners, police you name it. Huge bands played classic music or just gave drum concerts. Dancing groups performed and launched group members in the air. Performance and costumed artists also had their slot. The audience did not get tired of singing, shouting and partying all along the parade. I think this provided the magic that kept the men walking with their heavy-duty flower backpacks, which sometimes represented whole cities or historic events.
After almost 3 hours of flowers, the parade came to an end. Undoubtedly, the Festival of the Flowers is a great opportunity to make a real Colombian experience. At a distance of about 100 meters behind the final parade car, a whole army of cleaning trucks and uniformed workers came along, leaving not one piece of garbage behind them, almost as if the parade had never happened. I will be happy to see this parade again next year, making holidays in Colombia myself!
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